Fulbright to India Guide – 2021-2022

LGBTQ+ Rights in India

In 2018 the Indian Supreme Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and decriminalized same-sex relations. The Constitution of India included Section 377 after the British first implemented the code in 1869. Section 377 made it punishable by law for a person to voluntarily have “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” including homosexual intercourse and effectively all sexual acts other than penile-vaginal penetration. As of 2018, homosexual activity is no longer criminal in India. However, LGBTQIA+ persons can still face discrimination, harassment, bullying, violence, stigma and rejection.

At a Glance

  • Same-sex relations in India are legal.
  • Legal gender recognition is possible.
  • Registration of LGBTQIA+ organizations is possible.
  • India does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions. However, marriage rights are dependent on legislation specific to certain religions and there is no unified marriage law. The Madras High Court upheld the marriage of a man and a trans-woman in 2019.
  • The rights to adoption and surrogacy are closed off to same-sex couples.
  • Workplace discrimination laws and maternity benefits laws fail to account for LGBTQIA+ people. The Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act of 2013 considers only female subjects.
  • The Transgender Bill of 2019 fails to mention civil rights like marriage, adoption, social security benefits, and public education and employment discrimination.

Being Out in India

Sexuality in any form is rarely discussed openly in India, and therefore homosexuality is an even more taboo subject and one that can carry a lot of stigma. Homophobia is not uncommon, and it can be challenging to decide if and how you come out to your colleagues and other people you meet while in India. That said, in part due to the 2018 repeal of Section 377 decriminalizing homosexuality, there has been more discussion of homosexuality in the news media and among the general public. In 2019, Bollywood produced the coming-of-age romatic comedy Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, about a lesbian woman coming out to her conservative family, and in 2020 produced a romantic comedy blockbuster, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, which features a gay couple. Pride parades started in India as early as 1999, and now most major cities hold a pride march annually. There are dozens of registered non-profit organizations that serve the LGBTQIA+ community, from holding social and educational events to providing health and other services.These and other developments and cultural milestones signal a hopeful shift among the public towards acceptance of LBGTQIA+ individuals.

While homosexuality might be becoming more acceptable, depending on where you are and who you’re with, being out is not always easy. For example, it may be much easier to be open about your gender identity or sexual orientation in a large metropolitan city like Delhi or Mumbai than in rural areas. Ultimately, it’s best to gauge each situation and decide what you think will be most comfortable for you. It’s important to remember that coming out and being out are two different things; even if your work colleagues are aware of your sexual orientation or gender identity and are accepting of it or tolerate it, they may still be uncomfortable with open discussion of LGBTQIA+ issues, as with sexuality in general. Finding a queer community outside of your work and research may be the best way to have a safe space to be yourself. Social apps like Tinder are popular among young queer people in major Indian cities, and can be a great way to meet friends and find community. Your support networks, both in India and in the U.S., are important in helping you cope with any discrimination or other challenges you may experience. 

Transgender Issues

Since 2014, India legally recognizes a “third gender” and Parliament passed several bills protecting Hijra, transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex people from discrimination. However, the laws require trans people to register with the government, making them vulnerable to violence, stigmatization and discrimination. It’s important to note that there are many different trans experiences in India. For example, while the Hijra community in India (though marginalized) does have some visibility and support networks, female to male transgender people do not have the same level of political mobilization and visibility. Furthermore, while a “third gender” is legally recognized, the concept of non-binary identity is largely unfamiliar in India except among certain LGTBQIA+ communities and activist spaces. Hindi does not have an easily translatable equivalent to the non-binary pronoun “they,” although this may change as people develop new and more inclusive language. 

For transgender and gender non-conforming people, navigating space in India can be especially difficult, as men and women are segregated in most social situations. For example, the trains in Mumbai have a “ladies car” exclusively for women, and while this may be a safe space for feminine presenting women, it is not always a welcome space for those who present masculinely or are on the transmasculine spectrum. Public bathrooms are almost always gendered, which can pose a significant challenge for transgender people, particularly for those who do not pass as cis-gendered. The challenges you may face as a trans person (bathrooms, gendered public spaces, misgendering, etc.) may be very  similar to the challenges you experience at home, except in a different cultural context and without your usual support systems. Therefore self-care and good coping mechanisms will be extra important to staying healthy and safe during your Fulbright experience.

Online resource page

India has a relatively large number of LGBTQIA+ organizations that are involved in activism, outreach, social events, support, and other activities. These organizations can be a great way to find a sense of community or to just get information and learn more about LGBTQIA+ issues in India.


  • WHAQ – We’re Here and Queer! A support space for women loving women


  • Chennai International Queer Film Festival – a festival of shorts, feature films and documentaries on sexuality and gender diversity
  • Orinam – a collective of LGBTIQA+ people and allies in Chennai providing support and cultural and activists spaces and events
  • SAATHII – national organization advocating for universal access to rights, health, legal and social services for communities marginalized for HIV status, gender and/or sexuality


  • CREA – a feminist human rights organization part of the Sexual Rights Initiative
  • Delhi Pride Parade
  • Naz Foundation (India) Trust – HIV /AIDS advocacy group that lead much of the anti-377 advocacy in 2013
  • Qashti – a queer and feminist collective LBTQI people assigned female at birth that organizes a variety of social events in New Delhi
  • Saheli – a women’s resource and crisis intervention center
  • Sangini India Trust – a 24/7 helpline and support center for women attracted to women and individuals dealing with their gender identity (F to M) operating under the Naz Foundation (India) Trust



This resource was developed by Eliot Hetterly and Jasneet Aulakh, 2013-14 Fulbright-Nehru Student Researchers. It was last updated in March 2020.

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